Mahaney: “Worldliness,” ch. 2

Review: Chapter 2 – “God, My Heart, and Media” by Craig Cabaniss in Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, C. J. Mahaney, ed.

A friend of mine loaned me his copy of this little book for my review. Since it is a compilation of six essays by five Sovereign Grace Ministries clergymen, I thought it best to review the book section by section. Previously: Chapter One.

The second chapter is written by Craig Cabaniss, pastor of Grace Church in Frisco, TX at the time of publication.

Any publication that is the compilation of more than one author will almost inevitably suffer from uneven quality. It is the rare book that will find all authors of such a work putting forth a cohesive work of exceptional quality. (Occasionally a group of writers can collaborate on a total stinker, but we digress!)

The second chapter of Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World is, in my view, an excellent treatment of the subject. I thought the first chapter had some weaknesses, but none of these carry over into the second chapter.

The second chapter focuses on ‘television and film media’1 but acknowledges the principles will apply more broadly than that narrow focus. Cabaniss says:

If we’re faithfully to resist the ever-present ‘desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions,’ we’ll need to sharpen our biblical discernment and wisely evaluate our media intake, for the glory of God.2

Sharp-eyed readers might notice that the quotation from 1 Jn 2.16 here comes from the ESV rather than the NIV that C. J. Mahaney was working from in the first chapter. The ESV is the default version of the book, Mahaney’s use of the NIV is a distinct choice to use a different version. No reasons are given for the choice, but the NIV is clearly inferior to the ESV in this verse.

Cabaniss starts his argument by saying, “Many of us don’t think about actively filtering our viewing. As long as we avoid the obvious traps of pornography, we don’t consider deliberate evaluation necessary.”3 This observation is very important. The modern church seems to be of the mind that if the Scripture does not directly address the morality of our ‘media consumption’, almost anything is fair game. Fundamentalists used to criticize evangelicals for this approach, but many wishing to retain the fundamentalist label today seem to adopt this same approach.

Cabaniss criticizes a ‘lifestyle of careless viewing’4 that leads to an inevitable ‘drift toward worldliness’.5 He notes the powerful influence of visual media and cautions against the naiveté of Christians who assume they are beyond its power.

Lest someone accuse him of legalism, Cabaniss points out that the problem with standards or rules of behaviour is not the rules themselves, but the motivation behind the rules. If we are seeking to gain God’s favour, we are attempting to sanctify ourselves by law – legalism. But if we are setting standards to guard our hearts and glorify God, we are walking as wise servants of God. His whole discussion of legalism is fairly reasonable.6

Cabaniss advocates the concept of Coram Deo, or ‘before the face of God’ as a guide to our use of media.7 The idea is that we live in the presence of God and the fear of God is our starting place when it comes to use of media. He uses Ephesians 5.1-14 as a main text in guiding our decision making with respect to living accountably before God. He says that this passage guides our thinking about what is pleasing and displeasing to God. He makes a strong statement about television programs based on Eph 5.3, which reads in the NIV to say “there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality…” Of this, he says:

It’s hard to imagine a stronger statement than ‘not even a hint.’ Not even a hint of immorality. Not even a hint of impurity. Not even a hint of greed. I wonder how our viewing habits would be adjusted if this verse was constantly scrolled across the bottom of our television screens like the CNN news headlines.8

He says:

We take part in ‘the unfruitful works of darkness’ when entertaining ourselves with things our holy God despises.

In response to the question, ‘how far do we take this?’ Cabaniss does allow that some art can depict a storyline that includes immorality in such a way that it doesn’t titillate. There is no graphic depiction of immoral acts, for example, but the suggestion that they are part of the story. But still, he insists, we must ask how impurity is represented when making discerning choices. Is impurity thought of as good? As costing nothing? As un-damaging to those involved? We need to be sober about these things.

Cabaniss goes on to address the kind of language used in media and by many in today’s culture (especially, he says, “among young adults”).9 While he concedes that merely cleaning up one’s language is no necessary mark of holiness, still, he insists, “words matter.”10 He cites Ephesians 5.4 here and the foolish talk that is the vocabulary of so many.

If we’re forbidden to speak with filthiness and crude sexual humor, we’re equally prohibited from listening to it when we have a choice. Just because we don’t personally tell obscene jokes, we’re not off the hook when we plop down our cash at the box office and hire someone to entertain us on the big screen with gratuitous immoral humor.11

One of the most valuable parts of this chapter are a list of ‘discernment questions’ offered on pp. 57-59. Cabaniss has three categories under which his questions fall: “Time Questions” (use of time), “Heart Questions”, and “Content Questions”. One example of each:

  • Am I skipping or delaying something important in order to watch this now?12
  • Why do I want to watch this program or film? What do I find entertaining about it?13
  • What worldview or philosophy of life does this program or film present? What’s the view of man’s nature? What’s the view of sin? Is sin identified as such? What’s the view of God-ordained authority figures? And how do these views relate to God’s view?14

As he closes the chapter he offers three suggestions to guide our viewing of media:

  1. View Proactively – essentially, be ready to turn it off15
  2. View Accountably – make our viewing habits accountable to someone else16
  3. View Gratefully – seek out entertainment that is commendable and directs our minds towards God17

On “View Accountably”, I would suggest that this is perhaps a weakness that is contained in many popular writings on spiritual living these days. I find that ‘accountability’ as it is taught today is a kind of legalism. We need to learn to walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh, and it does seem that an ‘accountability partner’ is a fleshly means to a spiritual end. I am afraid it will only result in defeats and failure since sin is aroused by law (Rm 7.5). Still, I can see some use for accountability, especially as someone is sincerely trying to develop spiritual habits. It shouldn’t be considered a ‘cure-all’ however.

Cabaniss closes his chapter by saying:

While I’m optimistic about the possibility of watching for the glory of God, I’m also realistic about life in the mediasphere. For most of us, applying biblical discernment and viewing with discretion will mean watching less than we currently do. …

Many of us could use a vacation from viewing, some rest and relaxation from the constant distraction of entertainment media. Dropping the remote and getting off the sofa won’t guarantee we’ll escape worldly drift, but it’s a step in the right direction.

All in all, I would have to commend this chapter. If it is available as a standalone handout, I’d be happy to give this to anyone in my church. Cabaniss does an excellent job here and presents wise counsel for guiding our use of entertainment media.

don_sig2

Notes:

  1. p. 39 []
  2. p. 39 []
  3. p. 39 []
  4. p. 40 []
  5. p. 42 []
  6. pp. 44-45 []
  7. pp. 46ff. []
  8. p. 51 []
  9. p. 54 []
  10. p. 54 []
  11. p. 55 []
  12. p. 57 []
  13. p. 58 []
  14. p. 58 []
  15. pp. 60-62 []
  16. pp. 63-65 []
  17. pp. 65-67 []

Comments

  1. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Don

    I am a happy user of Covenant Eyes internet software, and I can tell you, without doubt, the accountability works for me – but not in the way the author perhaps means it. I don’t have a friend constantly asking me day by day what I have done, but I do know that if I am tempted, my activity will be reported and I will be held to account.

    Of course, the sad truth is that we should so fear the Lord that we need no human accountability at all. But we don’t. Oh, wretched man that I am!

    J

    • Well, I am not against using tools like this, but what I think we need to be after is the real strength of the Spirit to overcome the flesh. Maybe that’s not possible in this world.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3